The New Madrid
Earthquake of 1811
The first shock of the great earthquake came about 2 A.M.
on the 16th. of December, 1811. It was felt over a very wide area
including White and Warren Counties and the Caney Fork River basin.
A report of this earthquake along with the Indian legends connected with
it was published in the January, 1924 issue of The National Geographic
Magazine. The following is taken from page 105.
|General Rogers, of Revolutionary fame, living
at Rock Island, on the Caney Fork River, at the foot of
Cumberland Mountains, 200 miles to the east, (of Reelfoot Lake)
saw great blocks of sandstone, loosened from the top escarpment,
1,000 above the river, crash down the mountain sides.
This agrees with tradition in the area
that rocks fell but otherwise is not very accurate. The name
should be spelled with a "d" as Rodgers. He was not a
Revolutionary soldier. He was not born till 1799 and the family
was not living at Rock Island at the time of the earthquake.
The story is told that Rock Martin was born at Rock
Island on the night of the earthquake and that is why he is called
"Rock." According to local tradition rocks fell from the top of
the cliffs and Rock Island was formed by a huge piece of rock becoming
detached from the cliffs. The last part of the statement makes
interesting reading but is not true. The island was in place when
the Battle of Rock Island was fought and when the first settlers and
explorers visited the area in the 1790's.
The following description was taken from the History of
White County by the Rev. Monroe Seals. The effects of the quake
seem to have been about the same in the White County as in the New
|From the beginning of 1811 to the close of
1815 was a period of intense excitement. In December,
1811, there was an earthquake that startled our inhabitants.
It had been raining for three months and the Calfkiller River
was running muddy water. The earthquake was at night.
There was a smell of sulphur in the air before the shock.
There as a wave of the land accompanied by a roar, then the most
frightful thing occurred in an accompanying crackling sound that
sent terror to the stoutest hearts. A dozen people who
were in the quake said that rents were made in parts of this
County that were wide enough to receive a tree and they seemed
bottomless. Mud and steam shot out of the ground as high
as trees. Water spouted out of he ground. Up the
Calfkiller River a knoll containing about two acres was moved
off its base without upturning a single tree, being moved from
one to eight feet a day by the repeated shocks that came six or
eight times a day. These were strong enough to rattle the
dishes in the cupboard. These shocks continued for six
months. Three are half a dozen springs coming up through
the holes so deep that cords made of three boss balls do not
reach the bottom. They are thought to have been formed by
the earthquake. Some have fish in them. There was
the brightest aurora borealis ever know in this County.
Excitement reached its climax when a blazing star spread its
tail across the sky. When it arose people could be heard praying
in almost every part of the neighborhood. They said it was
a sure sign of war. When the War of 1812 broke out, our
wise ancestors shook their heads and said, "I told you so."